An Interview with 100M Runner Sandra Garrett


Mike Baker,


Editor’s Note: Sandra Garrett, a 41–year old first-time 100-mile runner from Tampa, finished 6th overall in the Iron Horse 100 near Jacksonville in December, 2014.

Sandra Garrett worked as a carnie, which pretty much makes her cooler than you or me. Also, she’s Scottish which makes her impossible to understand if she’s really tired or a little drunk. I met her at a Torreya running weekend. She’s friends with Juan who I ran with at Whispering Pines.

I was hung over from a house party and he had literally just come from a club in Tampa where he’d been dancing all night. Juan and I share the same bad judgment and she called Juan friend, which made her instant family as far as I was concerned.

We ran all day at Torreya and were a mile out from camp, at the end of our fifth 6 mile beer and brat fueled six mile repeat, when Juan dropped down into a sprint toward camp. Sandra had been just a step behind us all weekend.

It turned out that it had been the newness of the trails, the technical steep climbs and the strangeness of the place that had held her back because on the smooth long road to camp, she muttered a curse, and then buried us like we were standing still.

She’s gangly, she can curse like a sailor, and she’s fit as barbed wire. I had the honor of pacing her a few miles at the Iron Horse 100 this year and at the back end of 100 miles, I had to work to keep up. She finished in a little over 21 hours in her first go at 100 miles. She is a genuine natural runner.

How old are you? 41

Did you compete in high school cross country or track? I did not compete in any athletic fields in high school or college.

How many years have you been running? I’ve been running for 3 years..

Lifetime personal records

  • 5k – 24:35
  • ½ marathon – 2:00
  • marathon – 4:12
  • 50k – 6:21
  • 50m – 10:21
  • 100k – 12:51
  • 100m – 21:37

What running events do you train for or what are your training goals? I train for next big race or big jump in distance.

Consider your training over the past 6 months to one year. How many miles a week do you typically run when not injured and consistently running? I trained for Iron Horse over the past 5 months, plan was based on 50-60 miles per week. Followed the plan as close as I could but didn’t always make my weekly mileage. When not training I usually run 40-50 mpw.

What does your typical week of running look like?

  • Tuesday 5 miles
  • Wednesday rest
  • Thursday 7-9 miles
  • Friday 5-7 miles
  • Saturday rest
  • Sunday long run 18-26 miles
  • Monday long run 12-20 miles

How does your training vary over the course of a year? Training is all over the place unless I have a plan to follow. When I have a goal I’m usually more accountable to myself. If not I just tag along with friends and run whatever they are running.

Do you take recovery or down time? I try to take down time after a big race but a lot of time this doesn’t happen! Use step down weeksduring training for recovery.

How much sleep do you usually get at night? I try to get at least 8hrs sleep per night, although its usually less on the days I get up earlier for long runs.

What time of day do you normally run? I run any time of day that I am able with my work/home schedule. A lot of long runs I did after work on week days and at night, most of these by myself.

What injuries have hampered your training over the past year? I had a foot injury after Croom Fools Run 50 mile last march. Took a couple of weeks off to recover which turned into 6 weeks as I lost my desire to run, so didn’t, then felt bad for not running, thus no desire to run. Vicious cycle!! I try to pay attention to my aches and pains during training to avoid injury.

Do you take any dietary or medical supplements? I try to take a multivitamin with iron, I’m anemic. Also take the joint supplement when I’m feeling creaky. I’m also taking prescription meds: synthroid, for my thyroid; neurontin, for my sciatica; b-12, I’m deficient.

What type of running shoes do you prefer? For road running I like Brooks Pure Flow. For trails Nike Wildhorse Zoom. I race in the same shoes I train in. I have shoes with over 1000 miles on them that I still wear, they are super comfy. Usually I can tell I need new shoes when my IT band starts to bother me during a run.

Do you race in a different type of running shoe?

Do you use weight training? I suck at cross training!! I’ll try to do yoga occasionally. Don’t swim, don’t own a bike and my weight training consists of push ups and crunches.

Do you stretch? I suck even worse at stretching!! I will stop mid run to stretch out something that is bothering me, but always neglect to do it after the run.

What are your favorite running routes? I love to run on trails, lots of good ones locally, and try to make all my long runs out there. I’ll do the shorter weekday runs on pavement around my neighborhood. If I do intervals or speed work (yeah right) I’ll usually do those on pavement. Most all of my races are on trails too.

What running resources do you like that would benefit someone else? Relentless Forward Progress has gotten me through all my ultras, used the training plan in the book. I also have used an online pace calculator for my last 2 races.
How has your training changed over the years? Over the past couple of years my training has changed only in that I’m training for much longer races and I’ve gotten off the pavement for the most part. Most importantly I’ve figured out what works for me instead of just doing what everyone else is doing.

What examples can you give of specific training methods, and what were the results? Like I said I followed the training plan from the book but I switched it up to suit me, took the weekday mileage from the 50mpw plan and the long runs from the 70mpw plan. I literally do not have the time to run 70mpw but I wanted the benefit of the longer long runs. Also, if I had to cut miles in a week I skipped them on a weekday and made sure I still got my long runs in. I didn’t do much of the LSD either, instead just trying to find a pace I could comfortably maintain, then trying to knock that pace down with my shorter runs.

What advice do you have for beginning or experienced runners to help them with their training? I don’t think I’m experienced enough of a runner to give advice to anyone except my close friends. General stuff, yeah but people need to figure out what is going to work best for them.

Discuss your overall training strategy Back to back long runs: I this every weekend training for IH, usually sun & Mon, or free night & sun I’d say over 50% of them I did solo. It gets you used to running on tired legs, hell all of me was tired on a Monday doing 20 miles after working all day.

Running at night: Being in the dark and cold and tired was excellent prep for IH. Just to get out there at night when you could be at home drinking a beer sucks sometimes. I’ve purposely run long out and backs instead of loops so I wouldn’t be able to quit.

Junk miles: I would give up miles during the week if I had to because of my schedule but I never tried to make up these miles on other runs. I made myself be OK with not reaching my weekly target if I had to drop miles. Adding extra miles onto my other runs just made them bad runs. I wouldn’t run as fast as I had further to go, or I would run too fast knowing I only had so much time, or would end up with long miles on the pavement, etc. So then every run that week would suck and I would be over tired, and cranky and hating my training.

Running solo: This is where the mental part comes in. It’s just you and the miles you have to run no matter how good or bad you are feeling. I had a lot of shitty long runs like this, just wishing I was done. Running 24 miles and passing your house every 6 miles! I think it made me tougher mentally, resisting the urge to quit. Sometimes I would run this route on purpose too.

Nutrition: I trained with what I used during the race, real food. I also limited my intake the night before and the morning of long runs. I felt it made me more efficient at using what I was taking on board instead of the huge carb dinner from the night before.

Embrace the suck: Pretty much speaks for itself. But getting over all the shit that sucked on my long runs got easier. It’s that mental stuff again!

Running on effort: For the most part of my training I didn’t use a garmin and ran on effort alone. I think this helped me maintain a better overall pace on my long runs. I was able to judge when I was going too fast and would tap out before the end of the run, or taking it too easy.

Other stuff: I did some interval runs which I enjoyed because it changed things up and I had a buddy to do it with. Not beating myself up about my training in general was a big part of it too, as long as I gave my best effort. I tried not to focus on mileage and pace too much, if I had a bad day and had to walk for half of my run I still counted it as time on feet. Just to be accountable to myself and what I was happy with.

How were other races useful to your training and why? During my training I ran a 5k, great because it made me do some speed work, which I’m usually way too lazy to do. I ran a marathon, which I used as part of a big b2b weekend, I ran a hilly 18 the day before. I knew I would never quit during a race so knew I would get my miles in. And I ran 100k as a prep for IH. Ran it exactly how I planned to run the first 60m of IH. I ended up winning the 100k, huge confidence boost 5 weeks out from the 100miler.

How do training partners work into the process? Did you have to deal with conflicting goals, between you and your training partners, and how did you manage that? Most of my training buddies are also ultra runners, so someone is always training for something. I got to run with folk a little faster and stronger than me which I love to do as it helps me immensely. Or sometimes I was the faster one and I would be pushing someone else. Didn’t really have any issues with running partners.

How did you decide you were (or would be) ready? i.e. Did you set up a series of goals and then act on achieving them, did you play it by ear.

Describe your strategy for IH 100

Mental: I knew I was mentally tough enough to get through. I really tried not to worry about the the things I couldn’t control, like the weather. I knew I had put in the time and just had to trust myself. I never had any dark moments during the race and never felt like I couldn’t go on. Maybe this was because it was my first one?

Physical: I had planned to run intervals of 9min run and 1min walk as I had done at the 100k. It worked well for me there and I was able to run the whole 100k. I planned to use this strategy and keep running for as long as I could. I was going to drop to intervals of 4/1 when I couldn’t keep the 9/1 but I didn’t need to do that. I think I had been able to train more at that sustained pace by running on effort during my training runs. I think I averaged around an 11:30 running pace for the duration of IH.

Spiritual: I’m not a ‘spiritual’ person so this was not a factor at all in my race.
How did you manage low points? I had no low points during the race. I managed it in sections between AS and never thought about how far I had left to go. I also knew I would have you guys to help me out, and for company in the dark so I wasn’t worried.

Which pieces of kit were most essential? Which pieces of kit did you wish you had but didn’t? Having a crew!!! I knew I could rely on you all to do whatever was needed, whether it was getting me clothes or food or filling my drinks. And the company during the night. Other than that I had made sure I had trained with everything I brought with me. Having food I knew I could eat, I brought my own Gatorade because I don’t like heed, having lots of socks and extra layers of clothes. I don’t recall wishing for something that I didn’t have.

Can you describe what was happening at different points in the race? High points or low points, nutrition issues etc.

1-3 I ran this section to get the jitters out. Started my 9/1 at this point.
4-50 I enjoyed running, no low points, ate well, weather was perfect.
50-57 It started to get dark and temps dropped quick, changed clothes at mile 57
57-75 I was glad to have my pacers. At 75 my friend told me I would finish under 22hrs. Didn’t believe him
75-90 I changed clothes 2 more times, lost appetite a little. Passed a lot of people which was a boost
90 The Suunto died. I got over it pretty quickly
90-95 I saw the girl in 1st. Juan started pushing my pace, I just went along with it, started getting tough
95-97 The sugar sand was really rough at this point, legs were tired
97-99.5 The pavement was really rough, I could see the lights from the finish line
99.5-100 I managed a sprint to the finish

Discuss your nutrition strategy. I ate solid food for as long as I could manage. The potatoes and chicken soup worked great for me. As did the Starbucks shots, should not have drank the last one 5 miles from the finish though. I had used all of these at the 100k.

What were the benefits of having a crew and what didn’t work for you? Having a crew was excellent, as I said earlier. I looked forward to seeing you guys. I didn’t just have to finish for my self, I didn’t want to let you guys down either!

Discuss the ways in which pacers were helpful. Discuss how they weren’t helpful. The company during the second half of the race definitely made it easier I think. That was more what I wanted rather than a ‘pacer’ as I wasn’t really ‘racing’. Juan did push me when he realized I was in 2nd which I actually enjoyed, I have no idea why. Maybe at this point I was a little delirious!

Describe why you wanted to run a 100 miler. I wanted to run a 100 miler after crewing my friend Juan at AO 2 years ago. I wanted to feel what these people where feeling as they crossed the finish line.
Discuss mental strength and how it functioned during the race. I’ve mentioned mental toughness quite a bit. I really believe you can train yourself to be mentally tougher.

Did you use mantras or slogans? What were they? No mantras. I do talk to myself while running, I don’t know if it helps, but its a distraction.

What were you thinking about when you finished? At the finish. I was in disbelief. It really was an unexpected finish time. Unbelievably happy and proud of myself. I felt good. Its hard to describe, as you know, took a while to actually sink in!